September 23, 2012
I guess someone put these out so they’d be taken. Well, I “received” them. It’s a point I’ve made before about language: when you think about “taking pictures,” you’re in that mindset of getting-consuming-owning that I think is at the root of much our culture’s weedy darkness. Whenever I go out with the camera with the thought, “I’m off to receive some pictures,” things seem to turn out better, that’s all.
OK, what’s the BFD? What’s the difference, Mr. NewAge Treehugging Blogger? Well, it’s about the attachment, the sense of claim: yes, maybe these images are now “mine,” in the rather superficial sense of, “if the wine column of the New York Times wants to publish this pic — I deserve a nice monetary consideration for it, okay?” But if I were to go out with my camera under the cloud of that expectation, then I’d miss the moment and the image. So the sense of attachment doesn’t belong to the process, to the act, of creating; it’s an afterthought, a merely material consequence of an interaction between a person who walks in the stream of cosmic coincidence and the life within and around him.
I tend to doubt that people who don’t like their pictures “taken” are really repelled by the camera, but more by the attitude behind it. To be “taken” is an intrusive, even a violent experience; but to be “received” is something different. A century or so ago, there was a post-Freudian psychoanalyst named Karen Horney, who has received very little recognition compared with the likes of Jung, who saw a phenomenon that she called “neurotic claim” as the psychological fuel of what we would today see as depressive, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Horney saw that this pervasive sense of claim underlay much of the neurotic inner violence that people bring into their relationships and self-images.
So it should be fairly clear that I’m not against having things — that’s not at all the point here. It’s just that there is a vast difference between a gift and a possession, and that, at a deeply psychological level, can make all the difference between a life lived in vibrancy or rigidity — between life as love and gratitude on the one hand and, to borrow Kierkegaard’s famous phrase, fear and trembling on the other.
The mildest perspective supports this: ask yourself, “who will own my house, my books, my piano, my favorite wine glass, just a hundred years from now?” In a culture based on competition, we are taught to repress such questions. We are instead drilled in the delusion of permanence, and consequently we suffer from all the fear, victimization, clutching, grasping, externalization, and claim-compulsions of the neurotic. Through consumption we are ourselves consumed, so that our own self-esteem, our self-perception, becomes attached to and consumed by the stony delusions of the external, while life and all its moment-to-moment gifts whizzes by unnoticed, unappreciated. There is, to my mind at least, a clear connection between the Wall Street darkness that brought us the Great Recession and the seeds of madness described by Karen Horney:
The difference between a need and a claim is a clear-cut one. Nevertheless, if the psychic undercurrents have changed the one into the other, the neurotic is not only unaware of the difference but is indeed averse to seeing it. He speaks of an understandable or natural wish when he really means a claim; and he feels entitled to many things which a bit of clear thinking could show are not inevitably his…For these reasons it seems advisable to speak simply of irrational or neurotic claims. They are neurotic needs which individuals have unwittingly turned into claims. And they are irrational because they assume a right, a title, which in reality does not exist.